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Linda Saphan - The women in Saphan’s Incognito drawings cover their mouths with Krama scarves to assert their independence. This depiction contrasts with the media driven image of Asian women as exotic and submissive objects. Women enjoy the sense of anonymity their kramas offer within the city, and relish moments of interaction and socialization with men that would otherwise prove dangerous for ones reputation.

Drawing on her displacement from her native Cambodia, Saphan seeks to mend the disruption of her own cultural identity. Flown out of Cambodia as a child, she tries to envision an alternative life had she remained in her country. She contemplates the possibilities from her adopted Western position, always looking back. She has projected herself onto these women in hopes of reconciling her Western and Cambodian identity.

The black and white ink drawings are done on rice paper, a reference to the primary food source in Cambodia. The simplicity of her work and the observance of a single subject maximizes the focus on these women as assertive individuals. In addition, the black and white duality references Saphan’s own dual identity that remains her primary concern

Ester Lee, Van Cleve Fine Art

Oeur Sokuntevy is a young Cambodian artist whose colorful and planar depictions of women references both traditional and Western art. Emerging from a culture torn apart by war and now rebuilding itself, the artist deals with the disparate values of traditional and modern culture.

The traditional role of the Cambodian woman is one of subservience and dependency on the man. This idea comes from the Code of Conduct for Women (Ch’bab Srey) which was once heralded as the pinnacle of Khmer culture. This ideal is slowly being overturned by young generations in favor of a more assertive, independent, and sexually aware female.

The women depicted are in domestic or social settings. The conflict of the idealized Cambodian woman as distinct from its counterpart suggests there can be no reconciliation. The clearly outlined colors and shapes are immediately associated with traditional paintings-their composition and often flattened appearance are echoes of Cambodian murals and textiles that depict epic love stories from the Ramayana. Love is still the theme but the setting is the 21st century. Her folk art sensibility harkens back to the Western movements of Magic Realism and Primitivism.

In Sokuntevy’s works there is a sense of alienation because in contemporary Cambodia the traditional woman is still heralded over the modern one.  However at the core of the struggle to upturn entrenched views, lies the question: "Where do I fit in?”


Dana Langlois - Java Arts Gallery, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Sight Lines is curated by Pierrette Van Cleve of Van Cleve Fine Arts, San Diego, USA in association with Dana Langlois of Java Arts Gallery, Phnom Penh, Cambodia .

Two Cambodian Women look forward and back